Keeping Year 9 going…

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It’s that time of year again.  Year 11 have gone.  Year 10 are thinking about work experience. Year 9s become that little bit more difficult to teach.

I got lucky this year.  I got a rather nice year 9 group.  They are a group with a mixture of middle and top set characters with a handful of lower ones thrown in.  The words mixed ability make the range of abilities sound wider than it is.

Over the past 5 years I have not been so lucky.  This post is an exploration of the variety of strategies I’ve tried.  The following picture does not represent a strategy but is definitely reflective of how it has felt at times:

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9×4 teaching aid.

Prepare a presentation/poster

Sometimes we do not get enough time to cover the extensive culture and history that surround the languages we teach.  Students prepare a presentation in groups of two or three to be delivered to their class.

How to vary it:

  • Give students a choice of delivery styles: interview, powerpoint and speech, podcast recorded using apps like spreaker , giant A2/A3 poster for corridor complete with text and pictures.  If you are a school with ipads then a whole world of possibilities are probably open to you (leave suggestions in the comments section).
  • To use TL or not to use TL.  With groups where most carry on til GCSE then insist on some TL, otherwise make the activity about presentation skills (perhaps colloaborate with English).
  • Horrible Histories.  Having met Terry Deary, the man is on to something.  The more gory or wacky it is; the more kids  will read about it.  Perhaps get your kids to go after the lesser known facts.
  • Ban certain websites.  Wikipedia is not always correct.  At university when I looked up the Spanish Civil War it turned out it was Manchester United’s sub goalkeeper!  Encourage use of reputable sources.
History Culture Geography
Guerra de independencia Don Quixote Espana
Islamic Conquest of Spain Gabriel Garcia Marquez Bolivia
The Inquistion Cataluna Peru
Colombus Castilla y Leon Paraguay
Spanish Civil War El País Vasco Chile
Franco Flamenco Ecuador
Juan Carlos de Borbon Tango Honduras
Zapatero Bullfighting Costa Rica
Ernesto Che Guevara Galicia Puerto Rico
Simon Bolivar Bunuel Venezuela
Al Andalus La tomatina Colombia
Eva Peron San Fermin Los Andes
Evo Morales Pedro Almodovar El salar de uyuni
Diego Maradona Las islas canarias Patagonia

Spanish survival kit

Everything needed for the casual tourist.  What does a holidaying student need?

WEEK THEME
1 Introductions

Name ¿Cómo te llamas? Me llamo …,

How are you + opinions¿Qué tal? ¿ Cómo estás?

Numbers 1 – 20, Age ¿Cuántos años tienes?

Alphabet,

2 Personal information

Where live ¿Dónde vives? Vivo en …

Holiday dates, times

3 Food and drink

Basic vocabulary

Ordering in a restaurant/bar/café

Complaining – this is not what I ordered etc

Money and shopping

Currency

Asking how much

Understanding larger numbers and prices

I would like Quisiera …

I like/don’t like Me gusta…/ No me gusta …

5 Directions

Asking where places are in a town ¿Dónde está …? Esta … ¿Hay … par aquí?

Understanding directions

6 Revision

There are obvious benefits to this approach.  It gives students some revision of the basics and prepares them for holidays.  The downside is that it is too simplistic for some.

Start GCSE

This is this year’s idea.  As a department we looked at the new specs and decided there was some stuff we have never taught.  So we decided to give it a go.  The results have been surprising.  Most students seem to have taken to it as they appreciate it is necessary for their classmates.  Other groups with slightly lower numbers of GCSE students have found it a bit tougher.  They do however appreciate the more advanced themes (global understanding) and focus on being able to make up stuff on the spot.  Rachel Hawkes writes that students judge their TL abilities based on what they can say and she is right.

A Film

“But SLT would never allow it!!” I hear you scream.  You may be right but at the same time there is a lot to be gained, if it is handled well.

Things to consider:

  • Get permission from parents, HoD and SLT if needed.
  • Make sure it is already on your scheme of work!  History show films regularly, why not mfl?
  • Create a worksheet with questions to provoke thought.
  • Give pupils a selection of words to find and switch the subtitles on.
  • Give pupils a synopsis to translate sections of before starting.
  • Give the pupils some character bios to translate before starting.
  • Give the pupils some character bios to fill in during the film with multiple choice options.  Eg: Ramón es descapacitado / paralisado / activo
  • You could show them the trailer to give an overall picture.
  • You could give them a series of pictures from the film to put in order afterwards .(perhaps with a short Spanish explanation underneath.
  • You could write some true/false sentences for the students to work out.
  • You could make a multiple choice quiz based on the film using Kahoot to gauge their understanding of the film.

One of the most difficult GCSE groups I ever taught was spellbound watching el mar adentro.  17 boys, 2 girls and they were transfixed.  It also fed quite nicely into their Philosophy, Theology, Ethics lessons at the time.

Grammar Revision

If you have a group doing GCSE then take them on a grammar crashcourse.  I believe grammar teaching is important and it can be fun (post on quirky ways to teach grammar is coming soon).

Expo and Mira tend to cover something grammatical and then assume it is mastered at the end of that particular page.  The next time it is revisited, it will be similar but with something new added.  If you are following one of these schemes then you may find students are not quite as adept with the grammar as you would like.  Graham Nuthall (The Hidden Lives of Learners) suggests students need three exposures to new concepts before they start to embed them.  If you are using the above textbooks, it is entirely possible that students will only have had one exposure to some concepts.

The Euros and the olympics

The Euros are almost over but you can still find resources here.  The olympics are coming and there are resources here.  Use it as an opportunity to teach opinions and the future tense in the third person.

I think that Portugal are going to win

In my opinion France will win etc.

Perhaps you do something different entirely, leave it in the comments section below!

Outstanding MFL everyday.

‘Hypothetical’ conversation overheard in staffroom:

Experienced teacher 1: “I delivered a number of outstanding lessons today”

Experienced teacher 2 “Ha! Your definition of an outstanding lesson is you putting your feet up while the kids are standing outside!”

Experienced teacher 1: “you saw them then!”

I’ve seen a lot of requests on TES forums, Twitter and Facebook for outstanding activities or an outstanding lesson on (insert topic here).  I’ve probably wished for a few myself in the past.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for something that works when you’re low on time and your desk is covered by paper and looks like a scale model of the himalayas. What makes an outstanding lesson is highly subjective and is based largely on the observations of the person watching.  I think even OFSTED realised this recently.  OFSTED say they will no longer grade individual lessons or learning walks.  This is good news, although they have to deliver a judgement on quality of teaching and learning across the school so some form of grading still has to take place (in their heads one assumes). Teaching and learning still has to be judged as outstanding/good/requires improvement/inadequate.

This is not a post on “how to play the OFSTED game” as the only OFSTED game to be played is simply high quality teaching and learning.  It is a post about the key ingredients for an outstanding lesson and how we might apply those in MFL teaching everyday.

Before we look at the ingredients.  Let’s hear it from the horses mouth:

Inspectors will use a considerable amount of first-hand evidence gained from observing pupils in lessons, talking to them about their work, scrutinising their work and assessing how well leaders are securing continual improvements in teaching. Direct observations in lessons will be supplemented by a range of other evidence to enable inspectors to evaluate the impact that teachers and support assistants have on pupils’ progress. Inspectors will not grade the quality of teaching, learning and assessment in individual lessons or learning walks.

Inspectors will consider:

  • how information at transition points between schools is used effectively so that teachers plan to meet pupils’ needs in all lessons from the outset – this is particularly important between the early years and Key Stage 1 and between Key Stages 2 and 3
  • whether work in all year groups, particularly in Key Stage 3, is demanding enough for all pupils
  • pupils’ views about the work they have undertaken, what they have learned from it and their experience of teaching and learning over time
  • information from discussions about teaching, learning and assessment with teachers, teaching assistants and other staff
  • parents’ views about the quality of teaching, whether they feel their children are challenged sufficiently and how quickly leaders tackle poor teaching
  • scrutiny of pupils’ work, with particular attention to:
  • pupils’ effort and success in completing their work, both in and outside lessons, so that they can progress and enjoy learning across the curriculum
  • how pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills have developed and improved
  • the level of challenge and whether pupils have to grapple appropriately with content, not necessarily ‘getting it right’ first time, which could be evidence that the work is too easy
  • how well teachers’ feedback, written and oral, is used by pupils to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills. 

Source text here P44.

Outstanding (1)

  • Teachers demonstrate deep knowledge and understanding of the subjects they teach. They use questioning highly effectively and demonstrate understanding of the ways pupils think about subject content. They identify pupils’ common misconceptions and act to ensure they are corrected.
  • Teachers plan lessons very effectively, making maximum use of lesson time and coordinating lesson resources well. They manage pupils’ behaviour highly effectively with clear rules that are consistently enforced.
  • Teachers provide adequate time for practice to embed the pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills securely. They introduce subject content progressively and constantly demand more of pupils. Teachers identify and support any pupil who is falling behind, and enable almost all to catch up.
  • Teachers check pupils’ understanding systematically and effectively in lessons, offering clearly directed and timely support.
  • Teachers provide pupils with incisive feedback, in line with the school’s assessment policy, about what pupils can do to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills. The pupils use this feedback effectively.
  • Teachers set challenging homework, in line with the school’s policy and as appropriate for the age and stage of pupils, that consolidates learning, deepens understanding and prepares pupils very well for work to come.
  • Teachers embed reading, writing and communication and, where appropriate, mathematics exceptionally well across the curriculum, equipping all pupils with the necessary skills to make progress. For younger children in particular, phonics teaching is highly effective in enabling them to tackle unfamiliar words.
  • Teachers are determined that pupils achieve well. They encourage pupils to try hard, recognise their efforts and ensure that pupils take pride in all aspects of their work. Teachers have consistently high expectations of all pupils’ attitudes to learning.
  • Pupils love the challenge of learning and are resilient to failure. They are curious, interested learners who seek out and use new information to develop, consolidate and deepen their knowledge, understanding and skills. They thrive in lessons and also regularly take up opportunities to learn through extra-curricular activities.
  • Pupils are eager to know how to improve their learning. They capitalise on opportunities to use feedback, written or oral, to improve.
  • Parents are provided with clear and timely information on how well their child is progressing and how well their child is doing in relation to the standards expected. Parents are given guidance about how to support their child to improve.
  • Teachers are quick to challenge stereotypes and the use of derogatory language in lessons and around the school. Resources and teaching strategies reflect and value the diversity of pupils’ experiences and provide pupils with a comprehensive understanding of people and communities beyond their immediate experience.

So let’s have a look at those key ingredients and what they mean for us in the classroom:

Key Ingredient: What it means for MFL teachers:
Transition information We need a knowledge of where the children are coming from.  We need some idea of how much language tuition the children have had, what language and how effectively it was taught.  This is more applicable to year 7.  As far as year 8s and 9s are concerned, you will need an idea of where they finished at the end of year 7.
Challenge Is your work demanding enough?  I don’t mean simply sticking an extension task on a starter or a reading activity.  Are you sufficiently challenging that little lass who finishes the task seconds after you have explained it?  Should she have finished that quickly?  Are your tasks differentiated enough to keep all students challenged and engaged?  Could you give different students a different task?  How could you reward risk-taking with the language?
Pupils views ARGH?!   What would they say about your lessons?
Parents views Informed by the above as few parents have likely seen your superb lesson on the future tense!
Scrutiny of work From this I understand the following:

1)      Pupils must be seen to be making an effort and doing well and this should be seen through their exercise books.

2)      There must be some evidence that their abilities have improved.  You can do this through various ways.  Some staff will use charts with “can do” statements or it could simply be that there are less corrections in the book later in the year.

3)      There must be some work that is not “too easy” for them where they struggle.  Struggle is part of learning so that is not a bad thing.  If it is all ticked and correct then it could be interpreted as too easy.

4)      Feedback should inform and foster improvements in knowledge, understanding and skills.  For more on feedback see here

Subject Knowledge Must be evident along with questioning.  Questioning varies depending on subjects.  I think certain subjects have it easier than MFL but students could deduce a grammar rule if given sufficient examples and then go on to some structured practice of that rule.  If you are thinking of ways to develop your subject knowledge then look no further:  Keeping your languages up!
Effective Planning No time wasted and all resources readily available and accessible.  They may not want to see a lesson plan per se but would expect to see a well planned MFL lesson.  This is probably the best thing I have read on planning an MFL lesson.
Behaviour Management Clear rules and consistently enforced.  I would argue that there is nothing wrong with removing a student whose behaviour is detrimental to the progress of the rest of the class, even in an observation.
Adequate practice time Pupils must be allowed enough time to practice and embed what they are learning.  There must then be a definite increase in demand and evident progression in difficulty of the material covered in the lesson.  Practice in MFL will obvious take place through different skills but it is worth considering: how do they link to your overall objectives in that lesson?
Checking understanding Understanding must be checked and any misconceptions identified.  You can probably tell who will struggle so maybe set the class a short activity that they can use to demonstrate their learning, while you go and help those who need it.
Challenging h/wk Homework could consolidate, extend or prepare the students for future work.  It should do all of these.  More on homework here
Literacy and Numeracy Whilst numeracy is harder to shoehorn into MFL, literacy is very much the bedrock of what we do.  Start using grammatical terms and do not shy away from them.  You’re a language teacher and probably a fan of the odd reflexive verb, subordinating conjunction or relative clause.
Pupils know how to improve Pupils have to know how they can make their French/Spanish/German better.  What does their book tell them and what does your classroom wall tell them?
Challenging stereotypes As MFL teachers we are in an ideal place to do this and hopefully avoid situations like the recent awful match of the day video where the presenters butcher the French language.  I’m not giving you a link, as a football fan I find it embarrassing.

OFSTED’s descriptions miss out one major feature of teaching that I believe is key to delivering outstanding lessons and that is relationships.  Admittedly you can produce an outstanding lesson that meets all of the above boxes but there is likely to be one question in the observer’s mind that also needs answering: “would I be happy for this person to teach my kids?”  Your relationships with your students will answer that.  John Tomsett says: ‘Fundamentally students need to feel loved and I really don’t care what anyone might think of that, to be honest, because if I know anything about teaching, I know that is true.’

What could I do now? 5 things to try this term.

If you’re English then make a cup of tea before contemplating the following:

  1. Build those relationships.  Grab your seating plans or markbook and find 3 students per class who you are going to develop your relationship with.  How are you going to do that?  Will you be teaching those kids next year?  Who knows?  Do it anyway.
  2. Key Ingredients.  Pick one of the key ingredients that you need to work on.  In your planning for next week incorporate it into every lesson.  Yep, that’s every single one.  It’s all very well reading a blog post but you have to act on it.  My Headteacher likes the phrase purposeful practice.  To paraphrase Aristotle, “we are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence therefore is a habit not an act.”
  3. Share.  Share the OFSTED descriptors or key ingredients above with your department.  What ones do you want to work on over the coming weeks?  What do you need to put into place for next year?
  4. Gained time.  Can you devote some of it to CPD?  Who in your department is good at challenge, differentiation, target language use?  Who could you learn from?
  5. Power of praise.  I used to do termly phone-calls home to a parent to give some positive feedback on a student.  I’ve slipped on this and may well do a few in the coming half-term.  Shaun Allison writes about them here.  You could also do an email although make sure you personalise it.  One simple phone-call has massive potential in terms of relationship with the pupil, their parents and the parents of other students.
  6. Consider September.  Yep, right now!  September is where we set the tone, set the patterns and culture in our departments, what would you like an observer to see if they entered your classroom?  What needs to be part of your practice?
  7. Iron sharpening iron.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (biblical proverb).  I love this proverb as it applies to most areas of life. Another person can always be guaranteed to sharpen you and smooth out the rough edges.  Most NQTs have a mentor and most PGCE trainees do too.  Once we exit that process, we are on our own.  Who could you work with to improve your own teaching?  Can you get them to pop in and watch?  No notes, no agenda, no judgments and no threat, but just someone there simply to develop your practice.

Further Reading

Indicators of Outstanding – a blog post by education adviser Mary Myatt.

Great Lessons – a series of blogs by Tom Sherrington (Headteacher) on what makes for great lessons.

An Outstanding Teacher – short blog post by Shaun Allison

Six Steps to Outstanding – I read this when I was starting as an NQT and found it useful.

Pupil Premium & MFL

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We’ll start with some words from Number 10 Downing Street:

“The Coalition Government introduced the Pupil Premium in 2011 to provide additional school funding for those children classed as having deprived backgrounds, and also those who had been looked after (by a local authority) for more than six months. The Service Premium was also introduced for children whose parent(s) are, or have since 2011, served in the armed forces.” Source Material for super keen readers.

Regardless of whether you agree with the idea of the Pupil Premium and the considerable emphasis placed thereupon, it is here to stay.  I have to be honest that over the past few years I have had mixed feelings and a lot of questions about it: what about children who fall ever so slightly above the threshold?  What about students with parents in the forces that actually do not access the funding and do not want it?  Can it make that much of a difference?  Are we in danger of over-emphasizing it?  One headteacher’s blog wrote about the disadvantage gap being a chasm.  It is a complex issue but not one we should shy away from.

Earlier today our SENCO shared this picture:

It reminds me that my job is a teacher is to ensure that every pupil has a chance to achieve.  For some those boxes in the picture will equate to extra funding from Number 10 and for others the boxes are the process of scaffolding and lesson planning.  For some pupils the boxes symbolise my teaching, my feedback and my attention or time spent with them.  Feedback has been covered here, support and scaffolding for lower ability has been covered here and here.  Today we are looking at the Pupil Premium.

Why Pupil Premium Students struggle:

Pupil Premium encompasses a variety of different situations.  It should never be confused or used as a synonym for low ability or behavioural difficulties.  Both might be true but they are not always the case.   I have done my best to list the struggles and the type of student in the table below.

Type of Pupil Premium Student Explanation
Free School Meals Eligibility for free-school meals is used as an indicator of poverty. It may be that such students eligible come from homes that do not support their education in terms of material resources, or in terms of assisting with homework.  Other needs might be more basic in terms of uniform, cleanliness or communication skills.
Service Children Children with parents in the armed forces are often eligible for the pupil premium. In my experience this presents slightly different issues in terms of T&L. Some students will be anxious as a result of the situation the parent is in and the infrequency of contact. Other students may need no help at all as the other parent works and provides for them.  There is a wide spectrum of need when it comes to this type of student.
Children in Care Inevitably these students will have varying issues. Much depends on the reason these students are in care, and at the same time, the quality of care they are currently receiving. Children in care are often quite well supported but struggle in other areas possibly in terms of development, communication and social skills, or mental health.
Ever 6 This refers to the fact a student may have been eligible for the pupil premium in the past 6 years.  It is worth knowing as whilst the student may no longer be eligible; there may still be needs that require meeting or they may only have moved slightly above the threshold for FSM.

What is suggested to be effective?

Having read OFSTED’s report on how schools are using the pupil premium.  They mention a number of ideas but many relate to SLT and governance.  The following are their suggestions for the classroom:

  • Effective teaching and learning for pupil premium students – just teach great lessons everyday.
  • Target support effectively.  How are you moving students forward?  What support do they have?
  • Know the desired outcomes for PP students, not always age related but higher.
  • Know your pupils.
  • Deploy your TA effectively  (see previous blog post here).
  • Enhance their thinking, study and revision skills (see blog on revision here).

They also say the following:

“Where schools spent the Pupil Premium funding successfully to improve achievement, they never confused eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low ability, and focused on supporting their disadvantaged pupils to achieve the highest levels and thoroughly analysed which pupils were underachieving, particularly in English and mathematics, and why.”  

Having read around the subject it appears there is a “no excuse” campaign going on.  Social deprivation, familial background, home situation, low attendance and level of need are not excuses (see 2013 presentation by OFSTED here).

In short, the pressure is on…

Photo Credit: Jack Zalium via Compfight cc

What can we do in MFL?

There are a lot of questions below designed to provoke thought and hopefully action.

Photo Credit: youflavio via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: youflavio via Compfight cc

Data tracking – Analysing data has become a necessary part of the job.  Whilst we may find it tedious, it is a means to an end.  The end should be answering the following kinds of questions:

  • Are your pupil premium students where they should be?
  • Are they attaining in line with their targets (3 or 4 LoP, FFTD, or whatever you use)?
  • If they are not attaining then you need to be asking why?
  • Is the underachievement isolated to MFL or is it more widespread?
  • Where are they achieving?  Why?
  • How can you use that knowledge to your advantage? What has that teacher or department done?  What are they currently doing?
  • Could another member of staff give a pupil a bit of encouragement that causes them to see your subject differently?

Seating plans – Some of my colleagues advocate seating all PP students in the same seat in their room so they always know who to go to.  Others advocate sitting them at the front of your classroom to enable them to seek help.  Yet more suggest surrounding them with pupils who can positively influence them.  It is up to you as a teacher to decide and you probably have your own views, but we have to know who they are and we have to be able to answer the question: how are you catering for their needs?

Resourcing in school – This could be hotly debated and there is a strong argument from both sides.  Lend them equipment or don’t lend them equipment, it’s up to you.  Similarly the  issue is the same with books, do you let them take it home?  Much also depends on the individual pupil.  For some pupils you will never see the book or pen again, others will have it back in the subsequent lesson.  Perhaps for those who persistently struggle the school could supply a pencil case that could be picked up from a central point and returned at the end of the day?  Rewards could also be used to ensure its return.

Bought resources

  • Revision guides?
    • A note on guides – having examined a few I am leaning towards CGP.  I just feel their explanations and layout are more accessible.
  • Revision workbooks?
    • Some exam boards offer these full of past paper style questions.
  • Photocopiable booklets from TES?
  • Learning websites such as samlearning.com and Vocabexpress.
  • Twilight sessions.
  • Revision sheets with QR codes containing links to good sites.
  • MFL revision conferences (one school in Peterborough did this – found via google)
  • Half-term revision sessions.

With all of this there is a caveat: you need to evaluate how effective and helpful it was.  This is very much something OFSTED and the DofE are looking at.  It is no longer simply a question of how are you using the  The assumption is you are using it but what effect is it having?

Resourcing the student with strategies and techniques

Do your PP students know how to revise effectively?  I hear from year 11s various comments on learning styles and about highlighters and gel pens however the research shows these to be largely ineffective.  If you are curious about how to make revision more effective then I suggest the following:

The Guardian – The Science of Revision – excellent article with links and research to back up.

EverydayMFL – GCSE Revision – Here’s one I made earlier, nothing like a bit of shameless self-promotion!

Classteaching – quality advice and backed up by research.

Anything to prevent the eventuality below:

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Relationship – Some students need someone to believe in them in spite of their home background.  They need that person who sees them for who they are and what they can become.  They need someone who sees them as a work in progress and who will not give up on them.  They need you to be the person who appreciates them just as they are, but cares too much to leave them that way.  I am not saying you have to be their best buddy but you can be the role-model, support and guide to life that they have lacked.

“Carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

Photo Credit: Macro-roni via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Macro-roni via Compfight cc

Teaching Assistants – Teaching assistants can be the unsung heroes and heroines of your classroom if deployed properly.  These are the questions you need to be thinking through:

If you have one then what is their remit in your classroom?

  • Do you direct them or leave them to it
  • Do they have a seating plan and know who they are meant to work with?
  • Do they have an order of pupils?
  • Could you promote independence by asking TA to move on after 1-2 minutes with a student?
  • Do they elicit or explain?
  • Do they guide to the answer or give the answer?
  • How well resourced is your TA?  Do they have your schemes of work?  Do they see a lesson plan or do you brief them on what is going to be taught?
  • Who is working harder: your PP student or your TA?
  • Could you get some planning time with a TA attached to a particular student?

Parents – Not all PP students have difficult family situations so get the parents onside.  Be careful not to patronise.  It is very easy to assume certain things when the label PP is on a seating plan or class list.  Parents evening is an excellent opportunity to build relationships, develop that link between school and home and facilitate learning and progress.  One parent recently asked me “what can they be doing outside of school as I don’t speak any languages?”  2-3 minutes later she left armed with strategies and places to find resources to help.  In terms of cost, it was minimal but there is a huge potential yield.

Marking Meetings – One of my colleagues recently suggested this at a meeting.  I’m quite keen to try it.  It used to be the norm when I was in school.  Certain teachers would call you up to their desk and go through your book marking it with you while the class were working their way through exercises. Would a pupil premium student benefit from some live feedback and a discussion of misconceptions?  Equally, this could apply to all pupils but if you’re going to work through a group, why not start with some PP students?

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Photo Credit: Jellaluna via Compfight cc

Any great ideas?  Leave them in the comments section below!

Everyday Feedback & Marking

Update: Government publish results of review into marking.  It’s worth a read and the three principles of “meaningful, manageable and motivating” are sound.  

Feedback and marking conjure up a variety of responses.  Some teachers secretly enjoy it. Some would like to drop their marking pile in a woodchipping machine.  If you are reading this because you want to improve your feedback then hopefully you find something new to try.  If you are snowed under then I would point you in this direction.

We know from research by people such as John Hattie that feedback can be incredibly important.  Two videos that demonstrate the importance of feedback and how it can be used well are below.   The first: Austin’s Butterfly, has done the rounds on Twitter, Facebook and in schools.  Watch for the kid at about the 45-50second mark with his encyclopaedic knowledge of butterflies…

The second video shows that over time with a diet of quality instruction and effective feedback people generally improve at whatever they are doing.  Pay attention to his control, his reactions and his speed.  It is one way I get the kids to “buy in” to my marking and then the subsequent reflection time.

 

Feedback or Feedforward?

I know, “feedforward” is not a word but this came from a discussion with some colleagues the other day.  Most students do not care about the work they have done once it is over.   They care about the next piece.  So whilst our feedback is reactionary and responds to what they have done, they are already looking at the next thing.  One colleague said that he gets students to copy the target from the previous piece of written work at the top of the next piece of written work they are set, so that it is in their mind while they are producing it.  If you are following Mira 2 then you maybe approaching a module on clothes.  Here is how you could apply this:

Homework 1: Produce a 75 words on things you wear at different times

Student completes piece of work with the following 2 targets

  1. Try to use a greater variety of vocabulary
  2. Add reasons to opinions given

Homework 2: write 75 words about a party you went to and what you wore

Student writes at top of work

  • TARGET: Use greater variety of vocabulary.
  • HOW: no repeated nouns or adjectives where possible.

Suddenly we have a situation where the feedback informs the next piece of work.  This means the next piece of work is not only a response to the marking but it is also driving the learning forward.

Do you use coloured pens?

Schools vary on this.  Here are some of the ones out there I have heard about:

  • The purple pen of progress.  This is for improvements to work or redrafting of work.
  • The pink pen of pride.  This is for work a teacher wishes to highlight as particularly good or because of how well the task has been met by what has been written
  • The green pen of growth.  This incorporates targets to improve.
  • The green pen of peer assessment.  It’s for peer assessment, the clue is in the name.  It is quite a good way of visually defining who did the marking (more for observer than the kid)
  • The red pen of teacher marking.
  • The turquoise pen of…you’re just making it up now!

I have seen coloured pens used really effectively in one of our feeder primary schools.  The presentation of their work is stunning too particularly given a very tough catchment area.  Something goes wrong between the Summer of year 6 and the Autumn of year 7, cynics might suggest it’s adolescence…

Highlighters

My new favourite.  This came originally from a colleague in Bristol and a colleague currently on maternity leave.  Underlining an entire piece of work in different highlighters.

  • Green = good leave it as it is
  • Yellow = something needs correcting

You could add some codes such as  (G) = grammar  (W.O) = word order  (S) = Spelling    to aid understanding where needed or just let the yellow stand for itself and force the burden of correction and thought back on to the pupil.  Some may disagree but I find this visually powerful for the kids.  Weaker ability kids who receive a piece of work that is largely green with one or two hints of yellow get a massive morale boost from this.  Even the ones that get more yellow than green benefit as they still appreciate knowing that at least some of it was right!

Stamps

Ross Mcgill who runs the Teacher Toolkit website has a post about verbal feedback stamps. I see no point in repeating him.  However many stamps can save time and I have benefited from the stamp stacks supplied by a website out there.  The stamps contain things such as:

  • “please give nouns a capital”
  • “please take more care over presentation”
  • “please watch your verb endings”
  • “great work, keep it up!”

DIRT

I mentioned DIRT mats in this post.  There are a number of things you can do to maximise DIRT time.  Firstly, make it really clear what you want students to do with the time and how you want them to do it.  Secondly, refuse to take any questions apart from ones concerning your handwriting for the first 5 minutes.  Lastly in that first 5 minutes, focus on the ones who need your attention most.

Prove to me beyond all reasonable doubt

My Head of Department posed a difficult question last week: “early on in year 7 when you have an able kid getting everything right, what feedback do you give that drives their learning forward?” I happen to have just such a year 7 so here is what I tried.  When we have done grammatical exercises, her DIRT task has been to “prove beyond all reasonable doubt that you can apply the grammar points from the previous lesson using pages … of Mira 1,2,3”.  She then gets on with exercises that challenge, extend, consolidate and deepen her learning.  Sometimes the grammar book used is not the regular one (e.g: listos rather than Mira or the GCSE foundation book if I was feeling really mean).  She has responded really well.

Patricia’s problems page.

Patricia is a student I teach who struggled with a new language: German.  We decided that at the back of her book we should have a problems page.  Initially, I did not mark much of her work to keep her confidence levels high but we had an ongoing dialogue on the problem page.  It was not triple impact marking or deep marking or excessive dialogue.  It was just an honest conversation where she could ask the questions she did not want to ask in class.

  • “I get that the verb goes second, what if you have two or three verbs?”
  • “How do you form questions?”
  • “Why can’t German be easier?”
  • “What is the difference between denn and weil?

Feedback sheets

TES is full of these.  Rather than writing the comments then they can be on a sheet.  This can be very effective but again the sheet has to be meaningful and linked to your assessment criteria.  I remember marking an oral exam with another teacher and they suggested I listen to the amount of subjunctives and connectives the student was using.  The problem is that the Edexcel Speaking mark scheme does not really mention either.  If you are going to produce a sheet like these then make it a good one.  The question the sheet needs to answer is not only “what do I need to work on?” but also “how am I going to go about it?”

Formative Comments

For a while we ran with comment only marking and to an extent we still do in that pieces of work are not graded.  It can be very easy to get into a rut of formative comments.  The following are based on the new GCSE Writing mark scheme (AQA is the only accredited one I am aware of).

Content Quality of Language Accuracy Language Specific
Stick more closely to the
question
Include greater variety of tenses Check genders Spanish accents only go one direction: /
What else could you say about? Use a greater variety of opinion phrases Check spelling Please give nouns a capital
How could you make … clearer? Find more interesting adjectives than “aburrido”
and “interesante”
Check verb/adjective endings Check direction of accents
Aim for longer, more detailed sentences Include more complex clauses and structures Check accents Check use of avoir/etre

If making comments then they should be demanding a response.  Mary Myatt has some points to make on this here.

Subtle comments.

The exercise book is a way of communicating with your students.  Do not underestimate the power of a well-placed positive comment.  Matt Walsh’s blog has a brilliant post worth reading called “to the quiet boring girl in the class“.  Sometimes they just need a little encouragement.  One of the most talented students I have ever worked with once said to me “why must it always be “to improve”, why can’t I just be good for a few seconds?” Here’s the challenge: pick the quiet kid that doesn’t contribute much in lessons.  Look through their book, find a piece of work, single out the positives and finish with a comment about how much you valued the effort and thought that went into it.  If you need convincing of the effect you can have then read this.

“I thrived on the quiet praise I was given” – Emma Thomas

Everydaymfl’s Marking & Feedback

I’ve outlined a lot of different stuff here.  I’m sure you have lots of other idea.  If you saw Everydaymfl’s books, what would he hope you would see?

  1. Underlined date, title and label as to class or homework
  2. Legible work.
  3. Pieces of work marked with highlighters.
  4. Codes where absolutely necessary but very few to force the student to examine their work.
  5. 2-3 targets at the end of work with how to improve.
  6. DIRT task for the student to work on (using purple pen).
  7. Some elaborate positive comments – not just “well done” but “this is great because.”
  8. Challenging and redrafting of poor quality or poorly presented work.
  9. Regular marking (half-termly)
  10. A comment somewhere to make the quiet kid feel ten feet tall.

5 Things to try tomorrow

5 Things to Try Tomorrow

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I’m snowed under with marking, reports and grades at the moment.  So here’s 5 ideas which helped me procrastinate, which you may like to try tomorrow…

Target Language Answers

How do your pupils respond at the end of starters, reading activities, listening activities?  I’ve started getting my classes to use the following:

  • creo que es …A,B,C etc
  • pienso que es
  • podría ser …
  • Estoy seguro que es …

It’s a simple way of drilling in key phrases and it keeps the lesson in the target language. I thought it might slow things down but it hasn’t.  Even better is that students are using them and they are appearing in their work.

Dice

Such a simple thing but so versatile.  Get a set of 6 sided or 10/12 sided dice.  Try any of the following:

1    me gustaría trabajar                                 con animales

2   mi amigo le gustaría trabajar                 en una oficina

3   mi profesor debería trabajar                   como domador de leones

4   no me gustaría trabajar                            al aire libre

5    mi mama debería trabajar                      con la gente

6   mi papa debería trabajar                          como profesor estresado

Or 

1    Give an opinion about … using ich denke, dass

2   Give an opinion about .. using gefallen

3    Give an opinion about … and add a weil clause

4   Give an opinion about … using gern

5   Give an opinion about …. that adds a sentence in another tense

6   Give an opinion about  … using meiner Meinung nach

Or vocabulary revision

1/2  Partner names 5 words on topic of …

3/4 Partner gives 5 adjectives on topic of …

5/6 Partner gives 5 verb phrases on topic of…

or create your own…

“Hide your whiteboards.”

The credit for this one goes entirely to a trainee teacher who gets better and better with every lesson.  She insists that students keep mini-whiteboards under their chins once they have written and then they raise them on her instruction.    Copying other people is one of my pet hates and this eliminates it and also forces the “less motivated” (bone idle) to work harder and produce something or it’s really obvious.

 DIRT mats.

cooltext170479354004015

Our school has introduced DIRT time.  One pupil suggested it be called “time for improvement, reflection and development” but then realised that “TIRD” had a slightly unappealing ring to it.  During that time, my focus needs to be on the students with genuine questions about how to improve their work.  The rest need to get on.  These mats are editable and really easy to adapt.  Despite the fact they are aimed at KS1 and KS2 they can be adapted and used with all years.  My experience so far is that the younger years like the Pixar one and my 10s & 11s feel that the force is strong with the Star Wars versions.

 

Hands up listening

This came courtesy of Nick Mair on a course.  It is incredibly versatile and quite effective in terms of assessing the skill of listening.  It also shows you who your best listeners are.

The teacher talks in the target language.  Students have 3 options: left hand , right hand, both hands.  You assign something to each hand.  Maybe it is “opinion”, “reason”, “two tenses used”.  Or “sensible”, “idiotic”, “mixed”.

Here are two examples using Mira 1, which would lead to students putting both hands up.

  • “En mi casa hay un salón, un comedor y una cocina.  Había un baño en el jardín.”
  • “En mi casa hay un salón, un comedor, una cocina y un baño.  Arriba hay un dormitorio, el dormitorio de mis padres y el dormitorio de mi tortuga.”

 

Credit to www.cooltext.com for the cool text effects.

 

Everyday Homework

Leading headteacher Tom Sherington writes on his blog “great teachers set great homework”.  In fact, he dedicates an entire blogpost to it.  I thought I would do the same but with an MFL slant.  I’m sure I have set some good homeworks and some bad ones in my time.  Below is a buffet of homeworks.  It will allow you to add to your plate the ideas you like, whilst avoiding those that you don’t.

One of the best bits of the blog mentioned above is this:

“The research by Hattie et al shows that homes make more difference to learning than schools. So, take away homework and what do we have? Essentially, homes with the greatest cultural capital, typically more affluent and middle class, will just fill the gap with their own family-education as they always have. They’ll be fine. Meanwhile, children from families where home-learning is scarce or simply doesn’t happen are left without structure or resources to fall back on. The same inequalities that give children such different learning orientations from pre-school persist. I’d argue that homework for all is a basic element of an educational entitlement; it is a leveller – provided that schools offer support for ‘homework’ to be done anytime, any place.” – Tom Sherrington September 2nd 2012

So, how can Everyday MFL teachers such as you and I make sure that learning continues outside the classroom?  Just as feedback and marking should drive learning forward; homework should do the same!

Vocabulary learning

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Well that was obvious wasn’t it!  As MFL teachers, we know the value of vocabulary learning but how can you ensure that they have actually learnt it.  One method I have used in the past particularly with lower ability learners or year 7s is the look, cover, write, check sheet.  You can find an example on the TES here.  There is also one that I would recommend with your weakest students at this link.

Sites such as Languages Online, The Language Gym, Linguascope, Memrise, Duolingo, Pons Vocabulary Trainer all have their place and role to play.  The Language Gym focuses quite heavily on conjugation.  This excellent with the advent of the new GCSE and the greater focus on being able to manipulate language.  Memrise I  like as it forces the students to type the vocabulary and produce it, rather than simply reading.  I’m a big fan of the phrase “reading is not revision” so this site is right up my street!  Languagesonline is also excellent.  The only issue I have with these sites is you cannot see which students have done the work!  I believe Vocabulary Express does allow such things but have yet to try it.

Rachel Hawkes suggests that students should achieve a certain amount of points from a selection of activities to prove they have done their homework, using a variety of different techniques.  Too many students will simply stare at the words and assume that some osmosis will occur unless they are given specific tasks to do.

I tend to teach the students as much as possible about how to learn vocabulary early on.  Look, cover, say, write, check can be very effective.  Flashcards and mindmaps equally so.  By testing it, you will give it value.  By sanctioning unacceptable performance, you will find students are more likely to do it.  I’m not going to give a minimum acceptable level as sometimes that can vary depending on the student.

A couple of colleagues in another department have recently experimented setting the same vocabulary for 2-3 weeks with lower ability classes.  They have tested them each week but only taken in the marks on the third time.  Looking at the books, they have found that the students improved and their confidence was boosted by this process.  I would argue the amount of reinforcement also helped.  You could do this with some high-frequency language for your weaker groups.  It is an experiment I would certainly like to repeat.

The multi-skill homework.

Currently my favourite!  Why set homeworks that test only one skill??!  This epiphany came to me at some point in the middle of a lesson!  It has only taken 5 years to have it.

Slow German, Audio Lingua, Conjuguemos and the websites previously mentioned might allow you to set a variety of different tasks.  My current year 10 were set the following last week:

  1. Listen to this podcast on audio-lingua
  2. Complete following exercises on languagesonline and samlearning
  3. Produce dialogue for … situation

I’m allowed to set up to 50 minutes worth of work so I might as well go for it!  I was not exactly popular when I did this.  Once the rationale was explained, most students went for it.

Exam boards also have past papers on their websites, that would easily allow multiple skills.  Again the specimen papers for the new GCSE could be used in this way.  Admittedly speaking would be out of the question but listening, reading and writing would all be possible.

The worksheet

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There are some brilliant worksheets out there on websites such as TES and the excellent Frenchteacher.  Having said that, you might have a low photocopying budget so I would encourage you to create your own or borrow bits from other people and condense it on to a single page.  The big question with the sheet is: does it make the students work hard?  Does it take them from a level where they might follow a model to get the answer to being able to apply the grammar rule?  With the appearance of translation in the new GCSE, this could be a place to include it?

 

 

The paragraph

Produce a paragraph on … Produce two paragraphs on …  These can often be effective as it gives the student time to work on something using what they have learnt.  However, beware the evils of googletranslate.  This website, long the bane of the Everydaymfl teacher, is getting.  Students shouldn’t need to recourse to it if they have been taught how to use wordreference.com correctly, or if they have sufficient resources on your VLE, in their book or on paper.

Have you considered a point scoring paragraph?  Higher point scores generally indicate better work…

5 10 20 25
Simple connecting words More complex connecting words More complex structures
um…zu
ohne..zu
ausser…zu
ni…ni
bien que…
The amazing mindblowing structures
to really impress examinersKonjunktiv II
Konjunktiv I
Si hubiera pensado…
French subjunctive
Simple time phrases More complex opinion phrases More of the above More of the above
Simple adverbs Less common adverbs Less common adverbs More of the above

Another idea would be to ask students for an ASL calcuation.  Average Sentence Length.  They need to divide the amount of words by the amount of sentences.  Scores of 7+ indicate they are probably using opinions.  Scores of 12+ indicate they are justifying those opinions.  Scores of anything higher and they might need to consider the occasional full stop!

Have you considered banning certain words from their paragraphs?  Some of the below would be top of my list!

French German Spanish
ennuyeux langweilig aburrido
interessant interesant interesante
amusant lustig divertido

The example sentences

Regularly I will set my learners a task to produce some examples using a grammar point we have worked on.  This is mainly because I want to see if they can do it outside the classroom without me and also to reinforce the material at a later date.  The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve suggests they will have lost some of it after the lesson so this is my attempt to fight the curve!  Perhaps suggest a theme for their example sentences:

Future tense: “what Homer Simpson will do at the weekend”

Past Tense: what”insert celebrity” did last week

 

The Culture Homework

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Photo Credit: Arttesano via Compfight cc

I tend to set one of these once a half-term (homework is weekly).  Students are naturally curious and like to learn about the country.  I remember, when I was in school years ago, a couple of homeworks from my language teacher: “find out what you can about who won the election in Germany?”  Gerhard Schröder was the answer, which seems like a long time ago now, probably because it was!  Students  like to know about the place, not just the language.  However, we are language teachers and so the homework should be proportional to what we do.  I would also counsel that you tell them to avoid the blindingly obvious and go for a more horrible histories style in their research.  “Madrid is a city in Spain” is the kind of thing you can open yourself up for if not careful!

I have highlighted my favourite one in orange.  Google it, you will see why it is such a cool festival!

French German Spanish
What is “la marseillaise” actually about? What is Karnival? What happens at “la tomatina”?
Find out 10 facts about the French Revolution Find 10 facts about the fall of the Berlin wall Produce a poster showing what happens at “las fallas”
What is Bastille day? Who is Angela Merkel? What is Yipao and why is it celebrated in Colombia?
What is Mardi Gras? Produce a timeline of major events in
German history starting from 1800
What is día de los muertos all about?
How do the French celebrate Christmas? 10 Facts about any German city Produce a short biography of Franco or another famous  figure from Spanish history
Who was Marie Curie? Who was Hans Riegel from Bonn? Who is the current King of Spain?
Find out 10 facts about a city that is not Paris. Find out 10 facts about a city that is not
Berlin or Munich
Find out 10 facts about a city that is not
Madrid or Barcelona

Flipped Learning

I’m a bit of a skeptic at the moment when it comes to this.  John Hattie claims that along with effective feedback; clarity of explanation is crucial in our teaching.  Most youtube videos teach a grammar rule and then explain EVERY exception known to man.  If you are not confused by the end then it is because you got up to make a cuppa 2-3minutes in.  I think there is a place for it, but video selection needs to be carefully done.  Then the students need to do something with the knowledge to reinforce it, otherwise it is just another video.  The questions the teacher needs to ask are as follows:

  • Is this better than explaining the concept in class with worked examples?
  • Is the person on the video easy to listen to?
  • What will I do about students who do not watch the video?
  • Should I use the video to introduce or consolidate?
  • Is the video clear, too fast, too slow?

 

If you have read this far then well done but don’t forget it’s half-term.  Enjoy yourself, rest, have some fun, have some more fun and be ready to go again on Monday.

 

 

Getting ready for the new GCSE

It’s almost here.  Regardless of the fact that 3 out of 4 exam boards are yet to have their specifications approved by OFQUAL, we have to begin teaching towards it in September. I’ve been thinking about how to prepare my year 9 learners for what is coming, in terms of topics and skills.  Here are some things I have tried out:

Modalverben – regular drilling.

German teachers will be familiar with modal verbs.  They are 6 most common verbs and are combined with an infinitive  The same can be done in Spanish but there will just be more of them and they take different forms.  I want my students to be completely proficient with these most common verbs so that they can use them spontaneously with infinitives.  If you had 10 minutes to prepare for an exam, having a mental arsenal that contains

I have to / I like / I should / I want to / I can etc along with some infinitives, should be useful to them.  We have been having regular sentence making drills on mini-whiteboards.  Over time I have added in some opinion and reason phrases.  If you are in doubt about whether drilling is effective then the video below is

Roleplays

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I found the old roleplay cards and we will be using them in the coming weeks.  If you don’t have them then there are some specimen papers on the exam-board websites. Those can be used and adapted.  Rather than writing a section, I will refer you to a previous blog.  A recent post on Frenchteacher also is worth a read.  Do your students know enough multi-purpose transactional vocabulary?

Spontaneous Speech

Students are going to have to be a lot better at generating language spontaneously.  Yes they can be drilled in rubric, roleplays and discussion but there is a greater emphasis on producing the language unaided.  With TL rubrics in the speaking elements, this could be even harder.  Rachel Hawkes has some worthwhile suggestions here.  She also has a Phd so I will leave it in her capable hands.

Speaking from pictures.

Rachel Hawkes illustrated this brilliantly on a recent course I went on.  It is about encouraging learners to use what they have learnt.  It does not matter if they cannot say what they want to say.  The question is what can they say?

What might a year 7/8/9 be able to do with the following picture?

  • Es una fiesta.   Hay un elefante.  Me gustan las fiestas.
  • Creo que es una celebración porque hay mucha gente.
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Equally with this you can get the students to predict the questions that might be asked.

New Topics

I’m borrowing from AQA here.

  • Marriage/partnerships
  • Social media
  • Mobile technology
  • Customs and festivals in TL speaking countries
  • Charity/voluntary work
  • Poverty/homelessness

This looks more interesting than “self, family and friends”.  The hard bit is working out how these might be examined.  How can we teach them and make them accessible? See the table below:

NEW GCSE
Topic from AQA How it could be examined Implications for teaching practice
Marriage/partnerships Speaking – discussion or picture
Listening
Reading
Writing – essay or translation question
Students need to be able to give
their opinions on this topic.
Discuss with RE department to 
ascertain prior knowledge, stumbling blocks and
stereotypes.
Social Media Speaking – do you think it is a good thing?
Listening – text about someone who uses
Reading – text about social media
Writing – essay or translation question
Need to teach a variety of multipurpose
vocabulary as the range is so wide.  Students
need to be able to give opinions on it, use
frequency adverbs and explain why it is a good
or bad thing.
Customs and Festivals Speaking – is celebrating things important?
Listening – report about an event
Reading – text about an event
Writing – less likely, possible translation
Teach major festivals at various points of the year.
Day of the dead, san fermin, la tomatina, las fallas.
Students will need a cursory knowledge of the well-
-known festivals
Charity/volunteer work Speaking – should young people do it?
Listening – account of someone’s job
Reading – account of someone’s job, charity
website?
Writing – should young people do it?
Teach students phrases to structure arguments and
create extended responses.
Poverty/homelessness Listening
Reading – text on developing world
Echo 3 and Mira 3 do a bit of this.  Discuss with
geography, is there a case-study or unit of work that
you can link this too.